In her first adult novel in 20 years, National Book Award–winning children’s author Woodson (Brown Girl Dreaming, 2014, etc.) crafts a haunting coming-of-age story of four best friends in Brooklyn, New York.
“The year my mother started hearing voices from her dead brother Clyde, my father moved my own brother and me from our SweetGrove land in Tennessee to Brooklyn,” says August. It was 1973. August was 8 years old; her younger brother was 4. Mourning the loss of their mother, it was hard for the children to be alone and friendless in a new city. But, gradually, August found friends: “Sylvia, Angela and Gigi, the four of us sharing the weight of growing up Girl in Brooklyn, as though it was a bag of stones we passed among ourselves.” With such nuanced moments of metaphor as these, Woodson conveys the sweet beauty that lies within the melancholy of August's childhood memories. Now, 20 years later, August has returned to Brooklyn to help her brother bury their father. In lyrical bursts of imagistic prose, Woodson gives us the story of lives lived, cutting back and forth between past and present. As August's older self reckons with her formative childhood experiences and struggles to heal in the present, haunting secrets and past trauma come to light. Back then, August and her friends, burdened with mothers who were dead or absent, had to navigate the terrifying world of male attention and sexual assault by themselves. “At eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, we knew we were being watched,” August says, achingly articulating the experience of a young girl coming of age and overwhelmed by the casual, commonplace, predatory violence of men. There's the pastor who presses his penis against Gigi’s back when she sings in the choir; the ex-soldier in the laundry room who rapes Gigi when she's 12. There's August’s first boyfriend and her first betrayal. To escape all this, August focuses on school and flees Brooklyn for college out of state and, eventually, work overseas. Here is an exploration of family—both the ones we are born into and the ones we make for ourselves—and all the many ways we try to care for these people we love so much, sometimes succeeding, sometimes failing.
A stunning achievement from one of the quietly great masters of our time.